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Some Inspiration for the Ambitious Writer

by William Demick

November is National Novel Writing Month, when writers everywhere attempt to produce a novel in only thirty days. This is a task that requires a good deal of caffeine and dedication, let alone inspiration. Since we at The House of the Seven Gables cannot provide you with coffee, it is probably best that we focus instead on offering inspiration. Where better to look for that inspiration than Nathaniel Hawthorne’s own speedy contributions to literature – The Scarlet Letter (1850), The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and The Blithedale Romance (1852).

One of the greatest motivations for an artist in any age has been anger, and so it was, in part, for Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, a novel he published after his unceremonious removal from the Salem Custom House in 1849. With plenty of free time on his hands, Hawthorne began to piece together the darker side of New England’s history to produce a work that was critical not only of the Puritan past, but also of his own present. By 1850 the novel was published and quickly became both a critical and commercial success. So, if you’re having trouble getting started, focus on something that makes you angry. Then dig into the reading. Hawthorne’s removal from the Custom House may have sparked his writing spree, but he had years of research into court transcripts and histories to fuel it.

One year later and 150 miles removed, Hawthorne would finish another novel, The House of the Seven Gables. This book would once again be heavily rooted in Salem’s history. For the setting he took the old Turner Street home of his cousin Susannah Ingersoll, which had certainly left an impression upon him after his visits. For characters and plot he pulled from his own ancestry and the names that populated Salem’s history. How did he accomplish this while so far distanced from his source material? The answer lies in his extensive journaling. Check out The American Notebooks for some examples of his journaling techniques; you’ll be surprised by how much of his published work began as idle thoughts. It’s also important to note that a few sections of The House of the Seven Gables may have actually been shorter unpublished stories woven together.

Within a year of publishing The House of the Seven Gables, he and his family would move on to West Newton where he would finish The Blithedale Romance – a story drawn from his experiences at Brook Farm, the failed utopian community set up in West Roxbury. Hawthorne had become a member of Brook Farm in 1841, and now over a decade later he began to look back to those days for inspiration. This came mostly in the form of character models and setting. It has been argued that many a famous contemporary of Hawthorne’s – from Margaret Fuller to Herman Melville – appear in some form or another in the novel. Writers rarely write far from their own experiences, so remember that you never know what, or who, may inspire you later in your life.

These are of course only brief comments meant to inspire the daring writer this November. If you’re interested in learning some more of the details about Hawthorne’s work (and the more you read, the better you write!), here is a suggested reading list.

  • The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Blithedale Romance – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny by Papa – Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Hawthorne: A Life – Brenda Wineapple
  • Images of the America: The House of the Seven Gables – Ryan Conary, David Moffat, Everett Philbrook

Date: November 1, 2017

Author: sperling

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